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Alarm over China’s tightening grip erupts in protests in Hong Kong

The Yomiuri ShimbunA person who does not act in accordance with China’s wishes could be made out to be a criminal and sent to mainland China. Recent demonstrations in Hong Kong may be an expression of the strong sense of alarm many residents feel that such a situation could become an everyday occurrence.

The protests in Hong Kong are reportedly the largest since the territory was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The protesters oppose and demand the scrapping of a bill to amend the legislation covering fugitives and enable suspects to be handed over from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Many people filled the streets around Hong Kong’s Legislative Council before the amendment bill could be deliberated. Chaotic scenes ensued and many people were injured during clashes between protesters and police.

Protest participants even included young people with no interest in the pro-democracy movement and people from economic circles who do business with China. Many people in Hong Kong visit China for work or on trips with family members. They apparently have strong apprehensions that China’s laws could effectively be applied even to people that are in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has signed extradition agreements with about 20 nations, but it does not have such deals with mainland China, Taiwan or Macao. The Hong Kong government proposed the revision bill following a case last year in which a Hong Kong man allegedly committed murder in Taiwan and fled back to Hong Kong, but could not be extradited.

The Hong Kong government, whose top leaders are in the pro-Beijing camp, aims to vote on the bill this month. China-friendly lawmakers hold a majority in the Legislative Council, so the bill will highly likely be passed. China’s government supports the revisions.

Beijing’s prestige at stake

Hong Kong residents’ opposition to the amendment has been galvanized because the judiciary is not independent from politics in China, a one-party dictatorship.

Judicial organs operate under the guidance of the Communist Party of China. Laws are applied arbitrarily and used to for such purposes as suppressing free speech. Many lawyers and other people who handle human rights issues are detained and held for extended periods.

In Hong Kong, owners of bookshops that sold books critical of the Communist Party of China disappeared and were detained in China. These actions trample on Hong Kong’s judicial functions.

Hong Kong has had an independent judicial system since the time the territory was a British colony. China promised to respect this when Hong Kong was returned and to allow a “high degree of autonomy.” This was based on the “one country, two systems” principle under which socialist and capitalist systems would coexist within one nation.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which equates to a constitution, also stipulates that an independent judiciary forms a central element of this “high degree of autonomy.” Hong Kong’s government has insisted that extraditions would be restricted to suspects accused of wrongdoing such as murder and would not include those accused of political crimes. However, could improper Chinese interference in application of the new rules really be prevented?

The impact of the planned amendment could even reach officials linked to companies based in Hong Kong, and there are concerns this might deal a blow to the local economy.

The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping should be aware that if the turmoil and clashes escalate, international criticism will grow louder and China’s own prestige will be tarnished.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 13, 2019)Speech



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